As California lawmakers settle in for a new legislative session, we want to share policy ideas for how they can best support teachers, students and education equity. As a teacher-founded nonprofit, Educators 4 Excellence works to ensure that classroom teachers are included in the policy discussions that affect their students and their profession. Our Los Angeles chapter worked with more than 50 public school teacher-leaders from across the city to identify five ways our teachers want to partner with policymakers to make meaningful changes for students.
Ensure school climate data addresses equity
In recent years, California state leaders have passed important school discipline legislation to reduce zero-tolerance policies and citations for youth – factors shown to reduce dropouts for students of color. But with the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), more power and decision making has shifted to the local district level. Local autonomy is critical, but our state must support districts through information, such as best practices, and ensure accountability so districts can make equitable decisions about funding and policy.
To continue improving school discipline and school climate, our teachers are calling on the Legislature to invest in school climate data collection and to disaggregate that data by race, ethnicity and gender in user-friendly reports that facilitate better decision making locally.
And while we recognize the importance of an accountability system focused on growth and improvement, we also need our state to clearly articulate what support and intervention will look like for districts that struggle to improve in terms of attendance, suspension and expulsion rates for student subgroups – particularly high-needs groups targeted by LCFF.
Preserve but strengthen tenure to honor the dreams and achievement of our students and their teachers
For the past two years, courts heard Vergara v. California and declined to take any action, paving the way for legislators, teachers and communities to define the way forward for tenure.
As our teachers have noted, the tenure process for teachers should be more than a two-year rubber stamp. It should be both longer – giving administrators appropriate time to make these decisions – and more meaningfully aligned to a teacher’s impact on student progress. This would also allow administrators and system leaders to make smarter decisions about professional development needs, leadership and career growth opportunities and strategies for retaining our strongest teachers.
Ensure the digital divide doesn’t leave our most vulnerable students behind
Education technology is a powerful tool that can individualize and deepen student learning experiences for students and make Common Core instruction more accessible for students with disabilities and English learners. Unfortunately, districts lack direction for implementing technology tools in the nearly 10,000 schools across the state.
As they strive to implement Common Core, our teachers urge state legislators to invest in bringing the best technology to districts while also ensuring those investments aren’t limited to technology for testing but also to technologies that support learning and teaching. In a state that leads the world in technology, it is critical that our students don’t fall through the cracks of a growing technology divide.
Help attract a new generation of teachers to our state’s most vulnerable communities
Enrollments in California teacher preparation programs have increased for the first time in 13 years, but these new teaching candidates are not necessarily choosing the fields and subject areas – or teaching in the regions – where the shortages are most pronounced. And enrollments are still far below the all-time high of 77,705 in 2001-02.
With growing evidence of an impending teacher shortage, teachers working with our most vulnerable students call on our Legislature to offer incentives to encourage teaching candidates to complete their teacher preparation programs and teach in hard-to-staff or struggling schools. These incentives could include higher starting salaries or bonuses, additional support and collaboration time, job-embedded professional development, public recognition and more opportunities for highly effective teachers to both teach and lead.
Listen to the voices and ideas of teachers working on the front lines
Teachers are no strangers to the ever-swinging pendulum of leadership regimes and change. Nor are we strangers to the delicate balancing act needed to address conflicting and competing priorities in education. As such, we recognize the challenges our legislators face.
As teachers strive to bridge the gap between Sacramento’s state house and our local classrooms, we ask our elected representatives to keep the door open to teacher voices and ideas. More than listening, we hope to have a partnership with legislators as we all work to leave a legacy in California that propels us all closer to an education system worthy of our students, teachers, families and communities.
Ama Nyamekye is the founding director of Educators 4 Excellence’s Los Angeles chapter.